If you’ve ever had that anxious feeling of thinking you’re in the wrong place, or that something unusual is about to unfold, then the ‘stage’ of Tim Crouch’s The Author, performed in Warwick Arts Centre in Week 3, was surely a place capable of provoking such unease.
Entering the theatre gallery at the Warwick Arts Centre, one is confronted merely by two small tiers of seating, intimately – or aggressively, depending on your interpretation – facing each other. No stage. And yet this is a theatre performance? Smatterings of people dispersed randomly among the seating looked as nervous as a worm in a bait shop. Surely we couldn’t all be in the wrong place. It felt like the Truman show to some extent – everyone looking from one to the other waiting for something to happen. It is from this point that the individual spectator, and collective audience, begins the intermittent barrage of inner questions over what they see before them.
The Author is ostensibly about a writer (Tim Crouch) who has written a successful and shocking play about deplorable mistreatment in an unnamed country, the two actors who appeared in it, and a man who saw it. It becomes clear that the man who saw the play is our link to understanding Crouch’s notion that ‘we have lost a thread of responsibility for what we choose to look at’. Crouch deals with the infective aspect that extreme and disturbing material can have on those who come into contact with it, and how it infiltrates our unconscious, much like a block of butter will seep into the crevices of a streaming hot jacket potato. The butter may not reach the bottom, but its irrefutable existence is enough to concern our minds with.
The actors of The Author are seated among the audience, and thus the play unexpectedly unfolds in the midst of the spectators. The audience is acknowledged, spoken to, even offered chocolates.
In short, the audience is immediately identified with – ‘Aren’t we beautiful’, ‘We’re so lovely’ one of the actors repeats. The audience is surreptitiously removed from the traditional experience of theatre, and suddenly plunged into an uncanny world at one with the actors.
It is as though, after a tiring week’s work, when we look forward to the Sunday morning lay-in, that the sheets are whisked off of our comfortable backs and replaced by a generous covering of ice-cold water, only to see the Other as the perpetrator of this abhorrent act. We are being made to stare incredulously at ourselves. Likewise, the audience of The Author gawps at himself and the actors.
Crouch’s play mixes reality and pretend in such a way that the nature of reality outside the theatre is extensively interrogated. What prevents us from transferring the streaks of violence, morally loose attitudes, and sensationalist shattering of taboos apparent on stage?
The divisive line between reality and pretend is blurred, and just as a pastoral vista is cut in half by water and land, one often wonders which is the hard reality and which is the reflected, quivering version of it. These questions of the outside world arise in such a way that links are manifestly drawn between the world in which such a play could exist, and the general zeitgeist for need of impact. Even if you choose to turn a blind eye to the moral questions apparent in The Author, the seed is planted, and inexorably like a horse on steroids, it will grow strong, and fast.